Tag Archives: domestic violence

The Real Pandemic: Domestic Abuse During COVID-19

Guest Post by Naomi Jubilee, Administrative Assistant, Called to Peace Ministries

If you’ve seen the news, you probably haven’t heard about the sharp increase in domestic abuse. The news is mostly focused on COVID-19 case numbers, stay at home timelines, and whether or not we have to wear a mask. “New estimates from the United Nations Population Fund suggest that three months of quarantine will result in a 20 percent rise in IPV throughout the world. In total, the report predicts at least 15 million additional cases of IPV will occur as a result of COVID- 19 lockdowns.”* What happens when the abuser works from home? What happens when a domestic abuse victim can’t just get out of the house because he’s raging? What happens when schools are closed and the children are all home as well?
At first, a lot of quiet. Part of my work for Called to Peace is helping moderate a large, online support group for domestic abuse victims/survivors. When the stay at home orders started in our state, the conversations stopped. The women still living with their abusers were now more monitored. How do you safely check on someone you know is living in an abusive home? You have to wait, hoping they are truly safe. Texting them at the wrong time could be even more dangerous.

Next, a lot of similar stories. The current victims are still mostly silent, but it’s the single mom survivors who are talking. “My abuser won’t bring the children back to me because of my job; he says I’m probably exposed.”

“My abuser won’t bring the children back to me because he’s been taking them everywhere and one of his family members tested positive, so he says he needs to quarantine the children with him.”

“My abuser should be in jail for violating the protective order but the courts are closed.”

“My children came home with bruises, but child protective services refused to investigate fully because of COVID-19 and dismissed the case as not having enough evidence.”

I only wish I was making up these stories.

Then there’s the financial component. Many survivors have lost jobs and taken temporary jobs at grocery stores or are still out of work. Some of their abusers have lost jobs and decided not to pay them child support. Some were excited at the prospect of a stimulus check to recoup their losses. A great number have watched this money be deposited into a joint account and withdrawn by their separated or divorced spouses. All we can hope is that they get some of it, eventually. Legal actions to claim their portion would cost more than the money they would get.

As the lockdown becomes extended, victims find new ways to communicate carefully. Some are actively working to get out, but there’s nowhere to go. So many are reaching out for advocacy because it’s hard enough making a safety plan in normal times. Random people on social media are posting for people to message them to buy fake beauty supplies as a sign they need help. The trouble with that tactic is the abusers are reading those posts too.

How can you help? Check on your friends, especially the quiet ones, even the ones you think have amazing husbands. Abusers are incredibly good actors in public and victims are incredibly good at hiding the abuse. Invite your friends out for socially-distanced coffee or a walk where they can talk freely. Let them use your phone to talk on thehotline.org where their abuser can’t track their history
so they can make a safety plan.* Pray for them.

“Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”
Proverbs 31:9

Called to Peace Ministries has support groups and advocates who are trained to help women in domestic abuse situations. E-mail us at info@calledtopeace.org for more information.

*https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-sense-chaos/202005/why-the-increase-in-domestic-violence-during-covid-19
*https://www.focusministries1.org/SafetyPlan.pdf

Stuck in the Muck!

Ten Signs You Haven’t Healed After Domestic Abuse

I lived 23 years of my life as a victim. Well no, that’s not exactly true. I left my abusive husband after 23 years, but my victim status didn’t go away until several years after that. Becoming a victim was not my choice, and it was never my fault, but eventually I learned that moving out of the victim mindset was my responsibility. In the years after I got out of the abuse, my misery and God’s providence graciously led me to truths that enabled me to overcome and move from victim to victor. It was not a quick or easy process, but it was an amazing time that I wouldn’t trade for anything. God lifted me out of a pit despair and taught me how to walk in complete dependence on him in the midst of incredible turmoil. He grounded me in truth and made me a better person than I ever was before the abuse.

Even as I was working through my own healing process, I began working with victims of domestic abuse. I still had so much to learn, but I was willing to share the truths God was teaching me. In the beginning it was really hard for me to hear survivor’s stories without experiencing strong feelings of outrage and anger. I am sure that my support during those early years was iffy at times, but nothing could stop me from pursuing my passion to help. Over the past 23 years of doing this work I have learned many valuable lessons from hundreds of survivors. One of the hardest lessons has been seeing what happens to victims of abuse who never take the time to heal, or try to fast track the process by skipping the hard work it usually takes. Here’s what I’ve come to believe:

There’s no subtle way to say it. If you don’t find healing after your abusive relationship, there’s a good chance you could end up with some negative repercussions. You may find yourself moving on to another abusive relationship. You could end up suffering from severe depression or anxiety, or worst of all, you might find yourself chronically angry, perhaps even abusive yourself. *

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen these outcomes. I’ve seen scores and scores of women move from one abusive relationship to another, because they were still operating out of trauma from previous relationships, and because they never became healthy enough to recognize what to look for in a new relationship. The hardest part of overcoming abuse is overcoming the warped thinking that comes with it. I often tell people that it took a lot longer to get the abuse out of me than it did for me to get out of the abuse (and getting out wasn’t easy or quick). I had come to believe so many lies, which were aggravated by the physical impacts of post traumatic stress. These lies were so deep-seated in me that took years to recognize and replace them with truth. Meditation on His Word was powerful, but even after attaining the major healing milestone of forgiving my ex husband, I had a long way to go. Forgiveness did help alleviate the anger that almost destroyed me, but it did not stop the fear and anxiety that continued to rule me. Healing was a process that required honest self- appraisal along with sheer determination not to allow lies to control me any longer.

Where are you in the healing process? Have you determined to work through the impacts of abuse, or are you too afraid to face the truth of what happened? Sadly, that response is the quickest way to stay stuck or end up repeating destructive patterns. Many times people start the work towards recovery, but then try to skip over important steps like forgiveness, grief or self-examination. Are you willing to take an honest look at yourself? If so, below are some signs you have still some work to do.

Ten signs that you’re stuck in the trauma of your past.

Health Illustrative

  1. You feel a strong desire or need to be in another relationship— or maybe even back in the destructive one you left. You may find yourself longing for your abuser. You may have no idea of what a healthy relationship looks like, but that doesn’t stop you from trying again.
  2. You still see yourself as a victim. While you were victimized by someone, allowing it to become your identity is very dangerous. You may find yourself unable to trust even those who have good intentions towards you, and assume their motives are evil even when they are not.
  3. You find yourself easily triggered by anything that reminds you of the abuse you experienced. A sound, smell or even a word can thrust you into a state of panic or dissociation.
  4. You struggle with depression or anxiety. While there are chemical and hormone imbalances that can contribute to these conditions, it’s important to recognize that trauma also changes brain chemistry. Recovery work with a trauma informed counselor, and meditating on truths to counter warped thinking, can help rewire the brain so that it may be possible to overcome long term depression and anxiety.
  5. You can’t move past the anger. Anger, in and of itself, is not wrong. We are made in God’s image, and there are things that anger him. The problem comes when we become consumed with anger and are unable to let it go. Anger like this becomes destructive, and compels us to want to control things rather than releasing control to God. It is self-focused versus righteous anger which is God-focused.
  6. You are easily offended and overly defensive. When we haven’t healed we tend to take things too personally. We often read into the motives of others and make faulty assumptions based on our past experience rather than reality. This can cause problems in most of our relationships. 
  7. You are critical and controlling of others. Part of healing after abuse involves learning to let go the need to control things that are beyond our control, particularly other people. When we become hyper aware of others’ faults and feel it’s our job to correct them, we are in danger of treating others the way our abusers’ treated us.
  8. You struggle to make decisions. When we’ve been controlled and criticized for years, it is hard to move forward and feel confident about our choices. Most of us were told we couldn’t do anything right, so the simple act of making a decision can become paralyzing. 
  9. You can’t get past grief and regret. There’s hardly anything more traumatic than being maliciously betrayed by someone we love. It’s hard to get over the shock that their intentions were so evil, especially when we loved them so much. Many times we struggle to get past the guilt and regret we have for failing to recognize the abuse sooner. Grief is a normal part of the healing process that we can’t avoid, but it becomes a problem when it turns to self-pity.
  10. You feel hopeless and have lost your faith. Living with abuse can make us feel like our abusers are even more powerful than God. It’s especially difficult when they use scripture as a weapon to convince us that God is on their side. Nearly every victim of abuse I’ve ever met found their faith was damaged in some way, and most struggle with hopelessness at some point.

Has abuse left you angry, fearful or distrusting of people in general? Do you find yourself having difficulty with relationships in general? Are you easily offended or do you assume evil motives on the part of people who are truly trying to help you? Are you stuck in regret over the past? If so, you are not alone. These are normal responses to trauma and betrayal. The abuse was not your fault, but finding healing after abuse is your responsibility. Are you willing to do an honest self- appraisal and determine to do the work it takes to heal?** If not, you will miss out of the hope and healing our God offers. My prayer for you today is that you will encounter His life-changing truth, and that He will give you the grace and wisdom needed to walk the path to freedom. 💗

 

*Forrest, Joy, Called to Peace Companion Workbook, Blue Ink Press, p. 141.

**If you don’t know where to begin your healing process, Called to Peace Ministries’ offers a scripture based curriculum and support groups that can help. Visit http://www.calledtopeace.org to learn more

    Is it Abuse? Part 4: Emotional Abuse & Isolation

    Emotional Abuse 

    Women who live with domestic violence often tell me they prefer hitting to the emotional torture their abusers put them through. The Power and Control Wheel calls it emotional abuse, and while some may not agree with the terminology, there is definitely an emotionally destructive element to these relationships. “Emotional abuse systematically degrades, diminishes, and can eventually destroy the personhood of the abused.”[i] Tactics include: putting her down, making her feel bad about herself, name calling, mind games, making her think she’s crazy, humiliation, and making her feel guilty. Several years ago, I watched a woman in a store ask her husband if she could purchase a three-dollar item. Rather than saying yes or no, her husband began to put her down in front of everyone present. He asked her how she could be so foolish as to want to buy something that cheap, and indicated that she probably wouldn’t even use it. As he was criticizing her for her stupidity, he looked over at us and chuckled. It was clear he enjoyed taunting his wife, and that he saw her as inferior. Her face turned red as she tried to mumble out answers to his questions, and finally she put the item back to avoid further humiliation. It seems silly that something so small could ignite such a fury, but that’s the nature of domestic violence. Molehills become mountains on a regular basis when you live with an abuser.

    One woman at the shelter told me that sometimes she would purposely do something to get her husband to hit her, just because she knew that once the abuse was over there would be a break in the verbal assaults for a while. Victims are made to feel they are constantly wrong, incompetent and worthless. No matter what the issue, and no matter who is right or wrong, everything gets turned around and the victim ends up getting blamed for everything. The sad thing is that abusers are often skilled enough to convince counselors and pastors that their wives really are to blame for most of the problems in the marriage. They’re so skilled at these mind games that often their partners even start to blame themselves. Abusers go to great lengths to portray themselves as morally superior and intellectually more reasonable than their victims, and by the time they get to counseling many victims are so overwhelmed, and insecure about themselves, that they do seem unstable.

    Isolation

    Abusers love to isolate their victims from people and situations that might provide them with support. I have had women tell me that, after getting married, they eventually lost every single friend. My friend Kathy was rarely allowed to see her family- even on holidays. On several occasions, her husband reached out to her friends and family and told them it was her decision to cut off the relationships. He led them to believe that she was mentally unstable, and he was doing his best to make things easier on her. However, he was the one controlling her contact with others. She was basically allowed to go to church (with him), and to the grocery store as long as she wasn’t gone too long, and came home with a receipt to prove her whereabouts.

          Abusers use isolation to try and make sure their victims have nowhere to turn when things get tough. Most controlling people live in fear of losing control, so they go to great lengths to maintain it. Linda’s husband, Dave, bought a 17-acre farm 20 minutes from the nearest town, and he had the only car in the family. He was retired, so Linda had him as her constant companion. Dave controlled what she ate, what she read, and even her opinions. She was not allowed to disagree with him in any way. When I met her, they had been married over 30 years, and up until just before she came to the shelter, he had never laid a hand on her. Although Dave did not allow Linda to have friends, he had several, and when he invited his friend Carl out to visit, he brought his wife, Lucy. This was the first friend Linda had been allowed in years, and she was grateful. One day when the men were out hunting, Lucy told Linda she needed to stand up to Dave’s bullying, and let him know she had a right to her opinion. Shortly afterwards, she did just that, and Dave went ballistic. He beat her so badly she nearly died, and he ended up in prison. For all the years they had been married isolation had achieved its goal. When she completely isolated, Linda was too afraid to refuse any of Dave’s demands, but as soon as she found some external support she found courage to challenge him. Unfortunately, by the time she did, it nearly cost her life.

    This article is part 4 in a 5 part series on recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship. Many victims do not even realize their relationships are abusive. The intent of these articles is to show that domestic violence is far more than physical abuse.

     

    [i] Vernick, Leslie, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2013), Kindle Version Location 256.

    How Twisting Words Destroys Relationships

    Anyone who’s lived with abuse knows what it’s like to have their words distorted, to be accused of thinking things they weren’t even thinking. In counseling we call it assigning motives. This happens when one partner starts judging the other’s intentions. So many times my abuser accused me of having evil intentions towards him when nothing could have been further from the truth. Generally, I put his interests far above my own, but he always saw my intentions as evil. This twisting of words and distortion of intentions kills relationships, and those who face it have little power to change things.

    Uniformed people helpers tell us that if we would just win them over with a quiet and gentle spirit or bless them enough, they’ll come around. Nothing could be further from the truth. They don’t understand the dynamics of abuse, but apparently the writer of this psalm did, and Jesus certainly did.

    No matter what people tell you, dear friend, He understands what you’re going through. In fact, He’s been through it too. He loves you and sees your heart. Entrust it to Him.

    “Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.” MATTHEW‬ ‭22:15‬ ‭

    “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” HEBREWS‬ ‭4:14-16‬ ‭

    From Hopeless to Hope Filled: A Survivor’s Story

    For every survivor, there’s usually a moment of clarity where they fully realize the abusive nightmare they’re living in is a choice he’s making.  They know they need help, but those difficult steps to freedom are filled with trials of their own.  Here’s one survivor’s journey from clarity to freedom.

    The day I finally knew no more excuses would do, and I had to leave, was the day he threw a glass of milk in my face and then yelled at me because there was a milky mess.  I kept thinking maybe he would change, or maybe I was the problem, or maybe he’d stop drinking. But that day, I knew I couldn’t take any more. I was losing weight fast and could barely eat. My 3 year old son was watching horrible things happen in his home. So I left and found a temporary solution. He wouldn’t let me take our son with me. But if I couldn’t get better, I couldn’t take care of him or fight for custody.

    When the day came that I had to go back to live with him, I couldn’t do it.*  I was going to die in that house. I attempted suicide. For six weeks I lived in a hospital and had a wheelchair. I slowly learned to walk and eat again. But God used that time, my most hopeless situation, to give me renewed hope. My nurses and therapists encouraged me to get well, get help, and get a divorce. Where many people in the church had told me super unhelpful things like “God hates divorce,” or “You need to respect your husband when he’s not beating you,” (I’m sorry, doesn’t God hate seeing abuse?) my angels in that hospital told me I was loved and beautiful and I deserved so much better. I went through years of hearings and finally my divorce was final.

    Had I not had that horrifying experience, I don’t believe I’d be where I am today. I still have 2 bullets in my brain, but I am happily remarried to my best friend, and there is sunshine coming through the window of my little house on my little brick street, tea in my mug and flowers on my table. Yes, there are several nasty emails I’m currently refusing to read from my ex-husband, but I never imagined on those awful nights that I’d be in this place of peace someday. I want other women to know they don’t deserve abuse, they are beloved and treasured and I will spend the rest of my life and my second chance being the kindness I needed during the worst days of my life.

    The best part of my story is the word “was.”

    I was abused.
    I was afraid.
    I was suicidal.
    I was hopeless.
    I was sick.
    I was desperate.
    I was heartbroken.

    And today,
    I am alive.
    I am full of hope.
    I am healed.
    I am bursting with the good news that God can take women like me and make something beautiful.

    I will put beautiful crowns on their heads
    in place of ashes.
    I will anoint them with olive oil to give them joy
    instead of sorrow.
    I will give them a spirit of praise
    in place of a spirit of sadness.
    They will be like oak trees that are strong and straight.
    The Lord himself will plant them in the land.
    That will show how glorious he is.
    Isaiah 61:3

    He has made everything beautiful in its time.
    Ecclesiastes 3:11

    * This story was sent to us anonymously and we do not know where her temporary solution was or why she couldn’t stay there.  It could have been a friend or family member who could only house her for so long.  It could have been that she was able to get a space in a shelter, but even those have time limits. It could be that she was being pressured to return by someone who thought they were helping.  We don’t know, but those are some of the most common scenarios.

    (Comments in italics were made by one of our ministry helpers.) 💗

    A Look at What Called to Peace Ministries Accomplished in 2018!

    I wanted to post an update on what our ministry accomplished in 2018. Be sure to check out our website and sign up for our newsletters if you aren’t already subscribed. We are so grateful for those of you who have a heart to help the oppressed and abused. Blessings, Joy

    We are so grateful to each one of you who has supported CTPM us through your prayers, volunteer time and donations in 2018! Without you, our reach would have been far shorter, but because of individuals like you, this ministry grew exponentially last year. As you may remember we did not start our outreach efforts and support groups until March of 2017, but by the end of the year, 283 people had reached out to us for some type of help. From that number, we were able to provide direct assistance to 170 survivors and their children. This past year we received requests for help from 899 people and provided direct assistance to 475 individuals! 

    While most who reached out to us were survivors of domestic abuse, 153 of those requests came from people helpers, and a dozen requests for help came from individuals who admitted to using abuse and control in their homes. Many of the requests received simply resulted in referrals to other agencies. However, we were able to provide individual counseling and advocacy to over 170 people (compared to 60 in 2017), emergency fund relief for 23 individuals, and direct consultation with 52 people helpers (counselors, pastors, and concerned friends or family members). Approximately 150 women participated in our online support group, and 70+ participated in our three local support groups.

    Education is so important to us at CTPM because we know that a lack of knowledge in so many places (courts, churches, social service agencies, etc.) simply allows domestic violence to flourish. In 2018, we were able to provide education to about 600 people locally through our spring and fall conferences and speaking engagements in churches, seminaries and other venues. In addition, our online videos, podcasts and radio appearances reached thousands across the US, Great Britain and Australia. 
     

    On a local level we were blessed to have nearly 50 volunteers provide hundreds of hours of support to our clients in 2018. In addition to helping with our two conferences, these volunteers accompanied clients to court, provided them with childcare, assisted them in moving, helped with minor household repairs, bought Christmas gifts for their children, helped them with transportation and offered multiple hours of moral support. 
     

    In the midst of our very busy year, several new things happened. 1. We began a church advocacy program to help church leaders more effectively deal with domestic abuse cases in their congregations. 2. We had our first interns from Southeastern Baptist Seminary. 3. We introduced a new logo and new website. 4.Called to Peace: A Survivor Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse was published and has sold hundreds of copies throughout the nation and overseas. 5. We hired Priscilla Arthur as our part time Development Coordinator. 6. We partnered with House of Peace Publications to offer a faith-based advocacy training program. By the end of the year, over 90 people had requested more information on the courses. 7. We helped advocates in West Virginia and Indiana start support groups using our curriculum that will be published this coming May. 8. We enlisted the help of 12 local church leaders, including Dr. Danny Akin. president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, to help promote domestic violence awareness month and our fall conference.

    We are so thankful that you have chosen to partner with us to make our mission of providing life-changing care to victims of domestic abuse possible!Last year was only our second full year as a nonprofit, and honestly, we got too busy to even think about fundraising! Yet, you faithfully answered our online appeals. Your giving helped us bring in enough to meet our basic needs and to increase the limit on available emergency funds. Still, the needs are almost always beyond our ability to provide, and many times victims of abuse return to abusive marriages because of a lack of financial resources. At some point in the future, we would love to be able to provide transitional housing to help prevent this sort of scenario. We ask that you keep this concern, and the many others our clients face, in your prayers. We also ask that you continue to make those who are oppressed and abused a priority in your charitable giving by continuing to donate to CTPM.

    When Anger Takes Over

    Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of my book, Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse. Whether you’ve been through an abusive relationship or not, life is often unfair and it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with anger, but God offers a way out. My prayer is that the words in this chapter will help you connect to His freeing truth.

    Anger

    In my years of counseling victims of domestic violence, I have met some pretty angry people, and in many cases, their stories have angered me as well. Domestic violence can be unimaginably cruel, and it is difficult to hear the accounts without feeling upset about the injustice of it all. Quite often, victims are not only injured by their spouses, but they find very little support when they reach out for help. The judicial system frequently favors perpetrators, who tend to have greater financial resources, and often seem much more composed in court. Even churches can make matters worse for victims when they don’t understand the dynamics of abuse or interpret scriptures on marital roles harshly. For victims, insult is added to injury on a regular basis.

    Living with abuse gives us plenty of reason to be angry, but sometimes our anger becomes sinful and destructive. Unfortunately, when that happens we often find ourselves living with negative consequences. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” We can easily find ourselves compounding the pain and misery of an already bad situation by allowing anger to rule our hearts. It is easy to find yourself responding with anger when you’ve lived with it day in and day out but letting yourself to be consumed by it will merely worsen the situation.

    Becoming upset over violence and injustice is not only understandable, but it is also normal. Ephesians 4:26-27 seems to imply that anger is common but warns “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The problem isn’t becoming angry as much as it is failing deal with it quickly. When we stay angry and allow it to control us, we are headed for trouble. It seems that unresolved anger opens our lives to Satan’s destructive schemes (Eph. 4:26-27).

    There was a time when I became so angry, I began to suffer physical symptoms. Even worse, I found myself snapping at my children for the littlest things. Rather than being able to offer them the love and support they needed to get through the devastating events they were experiencing, I found myself so consumed with anger that I had nothing left to give. The problem with maintaining anger is that you can’t simply contain it to one area of your life. It spills out onto others and “defiles many” (Heb. 12:15). It is like a poison that damages every relationship in your life, including the most important one of all—your relationship with God. During this period, I found myself feeling as if my prayers were hitting the ceiling. Although I continued to reach out to God, resentment controlled me rather than his Spirit, which left me very isolated from my Helper. I needed to learn how to handle my anger biblically.

    Divine vs. Human Anger

    Scripture clearly tells us there are things that anger God, and we are created in His image as emotional beings. God’s wrath is provoked by sin, and He hates violence. In Genesis, God told Noah “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (6:13). It was enough to cause God to want to destroy His own creation, so it is certainly understandable when we get upset about it. Even the second part of Malachi 2:16, “God hates divorce” indicates He also hates it when a husband deals violently and unfaithfully with his spouse. The Bible is filled with passages proclaiming our Creator’s hatred of injustice and unfaithfulness. As His children, we should naturally hate the evil that he hates. Our problem is that we usually carry it a little too far. Rather than turning the situation over to God, and leaving justice in His hands, we try to control it.

    In reality, much human anger reveals a lack of trust in God. We may be questioning why He has allowed bad things to happen in our lives, and if He really cares. In our minds, we profess that He is good, but in our hearts, we doubt it. We know that His Word commands us to forgive, but we believe that forgiving is like giving a stamp of approval to the abuse. Thoughts like this unconsciously charge God with injustice. When we see our offenders “getting away” with sin, we want to take matters into our own hands, because it seems as though God is sitting back doing nothing. I know that’s how I felt, and I became so miserable that life was not worth living. Over time, God graciously intervened, but it was not an overnight event. It was a process that required me to take some very specific steps.

    Face the Truth

    People who live with abuse live with lies, and I was certainly no exception. I told myself that my husband couldn’t help it when he blew up, and that he was simply a product of his environment growing up. I tried to hide our violent episodes from everyone to the point that I almost seemed to hide them from myself. For over two decades I went to great lengths to avoid the truth; until one day I could avoid it no longer and found myself angrier than I had ever been. I was worn down by months of constant offenses. Doug had been calling and threatening me 15-20 times a day. I was afraid not to answer, because I felt if he didn’t get me on the phone, he would come out and make good on the threats. Normally, I would just hold the phone away from my ear and let him rant, because I learned that saying anything just made matters worse. On one particular call I heard the screaming stop and put my ear up to the phone just in time to hear him quietly threaten suicide. He slammed down the phone, and that was that. He had made similar threats in the past, but had never followed through, and usually started harassing me again within hours. However, this time I heard nothing for two whole days, and became concerned about him. I drove past his house both days and noticed that his car had not moved. On the third day I decided to take my key to our former home and go check on him. I was scared to death to go in but was so worried that I did it anyway. He was not downstairs, so I tiptoed upstairs and saw him lying deathly still on his bed. He looked extra pale, so I went up and nudged him. As soon as I did he woke up cursing at me, and I ran out as quickly as I could.

    Within a few hours I got a call from the county sheriff’s department saying that Doug had come in— and charged me with criminal trespassing. They had a warrant for my arrest, and he urged me to come turn myself in. I was released on my own recognizance, but I was furious! How dare he have me charged as a criminal when I was merely concerned for his well-being? Foolishly, I decided to call and let him know just how awful his action had been, but the conversation only left me more upset. I told him he was the one who needed to be arrested for violence against me, but he said he had only hit me one time in the entire history of our relationship. He basically denied being abusive, and I couldn’t believe his nerve! My response was pure rage. By this point I was learning to turn my strong emotions over to God, so I started writing in my journal, telling Him about all the horrendous things Doug had done over the years.

    As I was banging out complaints on my computer keyboard, my friend Karen happened to call to check on me. I told her about my earlier conversation with Doug, and the already lengthy list of offenses I was compiling. Much to my surprise, Karen said “Don’t forget the time he tore up the house, because he was mad at the cat.” I was confused, because I didn’t remember it at all. After she reminded me that they had provided housing, and how it had been resolved, I remembered. The odd thing was that it had only happened 12 months earlier! I was amazed that I could forget it so soon, but I believe that I had gone to such great lengths to hide it I had almost convinced myself it didn’t happen. For the most part, those of us who have been abused remember the abuse. I surely remembered the most traumatic incidents, but sometimes we lie about it so much that we begin to believe our own lies. I’ve met women who have casually told me that they had no problem forgiving their abusive spouses, but they could barely talk about what happened. Some who did open up were still making excuses or denying the severity of the abuse. That is burying anger, not dealing with it.

    Entrust it to Him

    After admitting the truth, we must put it in His hands. A great deal of healing happened in me the day I finally faced the truth and conceded just how horrible things had been. Let me clarify. I do not think I was healed simply because I finally told myself the truth. That was only part of it. The reason I found healing was that I was pouring out my hurts to God and committing them to Him. The truth was too overwhelming for me to handle on my own, but I knew my heart was safe with Him. Psalm 62:8 encourages us to pour out our hearts to God, and that is what I did on that day. When you face constant offenses, it will often require you to surrender your anger again and again, but it will guard your soul. Commit the offenses you have suffered to Him. It is the only way to avoid carrying them yourself, and He is far better equipped to handle them. Each night when you lay your head on your pillow, drop those heavy burdens at His feet and trust Him to fight your battles.

    Choose to Forgive

    For many of us, forgiving our abusers can be the toughest battle we face in the recovery process, but it is a necessary step in overcoming the anger that comes from abuse. Although it may seem that facing the truth about the hurts I had experienced would have made it harder to forgive, it actually helped, because I realized it was too big for me to handle alone. I knew I could not face the pain without God’s help. I also knew His Word commanded me to forgive, but I needed a lot of help in working through it. At the height of my anger, our ladies’ Bible study decided to work through Kay Arthur’s Lord, Heal My Hurts. When I picked up the book, I noticed a chapter in the Table of Contents entitled “How Can I Forgive?” It was the very question I had been asking myself, and this wonderful Bible study helped me figure it out. When I was able to forgive, it was as if a thousand-pound burden had been taken off my shoulders.

    There were a few common misconceptions I had to overcome in order to truly forgive, and I’ve seen many other survivors struggle with them as well. As a child, I was taught to forgive and forget. When my siblings and I asked for forgiveness, we were taught to respond with, “That’s ok. I forgive you.” Then, we were expected to hug and make up. Basically, that formed my view of how the process should look, but it was a very flawed perspective, because it caused me to believe that forgiveness would always lead to reconciliation. I also thought forgiving meant I simply had to minimize or dismiss the offenses as though they had never happened. Thankfully, I was wrong on both counts. Biblical forgiveness is placing the offender in God’s hands and leaving justice to Him. It is letting go of our own need for vengeance; but it definitely is not dismissing the hurt as though it wasn’t that bad or that it never happened. Romans 12:17-21 gives us instructions on dealing with those who harm us. Romans 12: 17-19 instructs us not to repay evil with evil and not to take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath.

    We must trust that He will handle the situation in His time and with perfect justice. Also, we need to refuse to stoop to our abusers’ level by taking revenge. Usually when we refuse to let go of our anger and desire for retaliation, it is because we don’t trust that His way of dealing with it is better than ours. We will never find peace until we realize He always has our best interest at heart, and He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29). Regardless of how things may look in the present, there will come a day when your abuser will have to bow before Him, perhaps in great fear and trembling, and confess that He is Lord (Ph. 2:10-11). We need to trust Him to make all things right in due time.

    Resolve to Believe Him

    Letting go of anger and believing God is definitely a choice, and not a simple process. For me it was hard work! It meant learning how to choose His truth over my feelings, and trust that He cared deeply for me— even when it didn’t feel that way. One day a phrase from Isaiah 50:7 spoke to me. This prophecy about Jesus predicted that he would set his face “like flint” to accomplish the Father’s plan.  There was something about His determination in this verse that resonated in me because I knew that my outcome would be tied to my decision to believe Him. I decided that I would resolve to believe, no matter what happened or how I felt. I pray that as you read this, you will decide to do the same. To overcome anger, and its damaging consequences in your life, you must determine to do it God’s way rather than your own.

    The Process

    Dealing with anger His way requires taking several steps. It means being honest with yourself, and no longer minimizing or making excuses for the abuse. In order to truly heal, you must face and give the full weight of the burden to God. Commit your anger to God quickly, and do not let it fester. Let Him fight your battles. Sure, there may be actions you will need to take to protect yourself and your children, but you won’t have to try and control things or force your version of justice anymore. Choose to forgive your abuser, recognizing that it will set you free, and leave justice in God’s hands. Correct any thinking that is contrary to God’s truth and believe that God will redeem your sorrows. Remember that He is for you, and that even though He will not violate the free will of your abuser, He is sovereign, and He wants to use your trials for good. Finally, seek scriptures that provide instructions on wisely dealing with anger, and choose to apply them. Please see Appendix A at the end of this book for a list.

     

    *Note: I do believe there comes a time in the healing process when staying angry can actually help us move forward. We have to become justifiably angry at the sin we’ve endured so that we will no longer make excuses for it or continue to subject ourselves to it. The problem comes when we allow the anger to control us rather than giving God control.

    “I felt so damaged & broken hearted”

    In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the second in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily.

    Looking back over the past 5 years I can see many things that I wished I had responded to differently.  I experienced the first physical attack when I was 6 months pregnant. I was horrified and frightened, and my husband was taken away by ambulance due to a “drug reaction” that they said caused the physical violence.  I believed the doctors and  believed his lies. He convinced me to believe that he would never do anything to harm me or our baby again.

    The second brutal attack happened when the baby was 3 months old.  He attempted to kill me in a rage.  Once again, the psychologist reiterated that it was a combination of medications he was taking, and after detoxing from these prescriptions he was “fine.”  However, this attack resulted in a visit from Child Protective Services (CPS).  This time was different. We were investigated, but the case was closed. After a 4-month separation I gave into his pressure and allowed him to move back home.  The abuse began again soon after, but this time he would remind that CPS would take our baby if I called the law during altercations. So, I endured and kept my mouth shut– until I reached the end.  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided that, even if it resulted in CPS taking away my baby, the so be it.  I knew I would get her back because I was a good mom, so I put it in the Lord’s hands.

    Some of the challenges I faced coming out of an abusive relationship were:

    1. I struggled with trusting myself to make decisions.
    2. I isolated myself and realized I had become afraid to commit to outings with friends and family.
    3. I thought God had abandoned me when I had abandoned Him.
    4. The sheriff’s department got tired of responding to my calls, and said coming out so often was nonsense.  They suggested that if we couldn’t get along together we needed to separate.
    5. When I finally reached the end of my rope, I almost got arrested for my rage when I was told I should pack up my kids and leave the house since he refused to go.  Meanwhile, he sat there smirking at me saying “honey, you need to calm down.”
    6. It takes a long time to heal from the mind from abuse, and it does not take much for me to find my thoughts returning to the negative beliefs I had when I was with him– things like “I am less of a person.” This still happens, even after 18 months of “detoxing” from him.
    7. Not everyone understands domestic violence.  People are quick to say “I would never accept that behavior,” but they have never experienced the subtle mind games they play. They keep you so confused you don’t even realize what is happening until after you’ve been sucked in.  I kept making excuses for him, thinking he was not that smart to know what he was doing, but I finally learned he chose his behavior.

    I’ve been free of him for 18 months now, and I am so happy I made that final call.  I had to allow myself to see that he wouldn’t ever change.  I had endured his abuse, sarcastic comments from deputies who came out, and belittlement from a judge when I asked for the final (3rd or 4th) protective order. I felt so damaged & broken hearted. Every night I sat awake crying– terrified of each noise I heard, and longing for security.  That is when I Googled Christian support groups for domestic violence and found a video of Joy discussing the purpose of Called to Peace.  Called to Peace restored my faith, gave me hope and allowed me to see my feelings were normal for victims of abuse.  I wasn’t crazy!   I thank God for showing me Called to Peace and helping begin the healing process.

    This is the Face of Domestic Violence

    Anonymous Guest Post

    “You need to leave…go to another state…get out with the baby…don’t tell your husband…go…!” I heard urgency in her voice. It was my first counseling appointment with someone outside the church after over 3 years in an abusive marriage. It was November 2017. Suicide was in my thoughts. Were it not for my infant son, I think I would have acted on such thoughts.

    I married in the fall of 2014. I had no idea I was in for a ride of the worst sort.

    Literally the day after our wedding, the daily abuse began, to my utter shock and confusion. He’d been so committed, it had seemed, to the Lord during dating. He got baptized, was going to church, doing Bible study, reading the Word, and would pray with me at the end of each phone call. Now we were married and the battering began. It started with verbal abuse – swearing, yelling at me, and threats of divorcing me.

    For career reasons, roughly 6 weeks after marrying, we moved to California. The drive together across the country was torture, and I was the target. One night on our drive, he was falling asleep at the wheel but refused to stop for a hotel despite my pleas. It was the first time I called 911. I feared for my life.

    Once in California, we found a church and began marriage counseling. Two years of marriage counseling commenced with our pastor. The pastor gave some of the best, deepest expository sermons in church that I’d ever heard, so I respected him, and he was someone my husband was willing to attend counseling with, so I wanted to make it work – even when it meant submitting to things I disagreed with.

    The pastor was one of the only people I told everything to, often texting him amidst “events” as they happened. He told me not to tell other people about my marriage, because that made my husband feel disrespected. He told me I was angry, too, like my husband, it’s just that I didn’t demonstrate it outwardly; I needed to work on my anger. I needed to serve, just not be a doormat (how does that work with an abuser who won’t honor boundaries?) He told me to say I was sorry to my husband, even if it wasn’t my fault, to regain peace. He told me to go back to my husband (after a brief separation, for example), and questioned me about calling the cops.

    Once I called 911, about 6 months after marrying, to get police to just supervise my attempt to depart, since my husband was had grabbed both my wrists preventing me from leaving when I was trying to physically separate from his verbal attack. The pastor from then on questioned me, messing with my mind about engaging law enforcement aid in the future. “Why are you calling the cops? Has he physically hurt you? If not, why are you calling them? Your husband says he won’t physically hurt you.”

    So, I stopped calling the cops. I greatly reduced my talking to others outside of the pastor and his wife.

    About a year and half into counseling, my husband seemed to be changing – the abuse less daily and more infrequent. The pastor approved of our trying for a child. I got pregnant almost right away.

    Once the baby came, it was not long, however, before the same violent man emerged with a new vengeance. Property damage to my stuff. Packing up with dramatic flair to “leave me.” Daily swearing in front of the baby. Yelling at the baby. Shaking the surface where the baby was sitting, causing the baby anxiety and fear.

    And as a new mom, I was expected to still do it all – all the housework, help him search for jobs late at night, work full time at a high stress job, care for our son, iron his clothes, prepare his meals. And if my reading the Bible interfered with his plans, he tormented me enough that I could not read it in his presence. My marriage was a nightmare but I still didn’t understand why.

    By November of last year, I started reaching out outside the church for help, and started to hear more than one counselor use the word “separate.” An in-home Christian nanny saw enough of the rising tensions to decide she wanted to inform me of something important: my husband was a narcissist. I found Leslie Vernick, and watched one of her webinars. That scared me, because I realized I was in the situation she was describing.

    It was domestic violence and it had not been addressed as such. It was if a hidden, lurking monster suddenly loomed in front of me, saying, “Bahaha! You found me! I’m the root of all the confusion and chaos in your marriage!” Suddenly, the dots all connected and the weird seemingly unassociated behaviors made sense.

    Fast forward to this summer, and between my son being older and some other logistical changes that made leaving more doable, an incident occurred with my husband that led to my separating back to the east coast.

    It’s been nearly 8 weeks now. More clarity has come upon my departure. I understand how mind control and coercion are real. I could not even see the situation fully until I was out.

    A pastor referred me to Called to Peace Ministries, who quickly connected me with a local domestic violence trained counselor. I found a local domestic violence organization and started receiving support. I applied for and was confirmed to receive welfare benefits. I wanted to cry showing up for charity food or sitting in the domestic violence building waiting for help. It’s been a low place, my place.

    I went from working at a high paying job to leaning on charity and government programs. I was so ashamed, I didn’t want to tell friends or family I was back and why. It all seemed so surreal, so sudden, so unexpected. I hadn’t planned for it to really come to this. I always tried to keep believing the best, hoping the best, praying for my husband, forgiving and forgetting. But my husband wasn’t changing and leaving became necessary.

    I’m still very much in the process of seeking stability in my situation, but for any out there in a similar spot, I want to encourage you with some things God has been ministering to me. First, he sees you – he sees the abused one. Just like Hagar who was cast out with her son. Sarah told Abraham to force her to leave, and God told Abraham to listen to Sarah. What?! God told Abraham to proceed? Yup. And sometimes the next step in God’s plan is not the one we wanted. But God showed up to Hagar in the wilderness as her provision ran out and she’d overnight become a single mom. He “heard the lad crying” and promised to also make her son a great nation. God took care of them when her earthly provision had come to an end. (Genesis 21:8-21)

    And so God is doing for me, and will do for you as you wait upon Him. He’s encouraging me that my role is to rest in Him, trust Him, wait on Him (Psalm 37). Of course, I am to do my part to take actions to seek stability, but it’s up to Him to provide for my needs. He is – even albeit through unexpected means at times! – and He will do so for all who call upon and wait for Him.

    Will Abuse in the Church Overshadow Greear’s “Gospel Above All” Agenda?

    I live my life in the trenches ministering to victims of domestic abuse. It’s no place for the faint of heart, and because tragic stories like the ones I see daily are played out below the surface, the rest of the world finds them easy to overlook. However, in recent weeks some of what I see regularly has become big news. A few weeks ago, we saw prominent Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader Paige Patterson lose his job over mishandling of abuse cases, and suddenly what has flourished in the darkness was dragged into the light. In response to the Patterson uproar and other scandals involving a significant number of evangelical churches, many in church leadership have made strong statements about abuse. J.D. Greear, recently elected president of the SBC, wrote a poignant apology to victims and abuse advocates. Greear is one of the youngest presidents ever elected and represents a new brand of Southern Baptists that seems more focused on the gospel of grace than the letter of the law.  Our ministry is located in the same area as Greear’s Summit Church and ladies in our support groups who attend there love it. They tell us they find a great amount of support and encouragement at Summit– which is definitely not the case for many of survivors we serve. For this and other reasons, I’m very pleased to see Greear take the lead at the SBC.

    However, as a seasoned advocate I’m concerned that in spite of the apologies and promises of change we’ve heard, it will be business as usual once everything calms down. Obviously, one man cannot singlehandedly change an entire denomination, especially one that stresses congregational autonomy. Still, he does have influence. His proposed platform stresses “gospel above all,” which is undeniably a compelling focus. However, when I first heard it I couldn’t help but think how often the gospel has been tarnished by evangelical churches in their handling of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and couldn’t help but think that if nothing changes the gospel will continue to be maligned by the very people who claim its power. In other words, we can’t convey the power of the gospel until the people who are proclaiming it begin to “act justly and show mercy”  to victims of abuse (Mic. 6:8). We must begin to elevate lives above institutions in a way that shows the world we love well or our words are meaningless.

    Statistics show that domestic violence is no less common in the church than in the population at large. That means that as many as one in three women in our churches are or have been victims of domestic abuse, and most of them have children who likely have been affected by the abuse in their homes. These statistics refer to physical abuse only, so when you add in the number who have been subject to threats, intimidation and other nonphysical forms of abuse the numbers are likely much higher. Without a doubt, we have a serious problem– one that is largely hidden and misunderstood. For the last few decades advocates have been raising their voices trying to help our churches see, but in general it has been denied or minimized. Even though more and more churches are taking measures to improve their response to abuse, far too many are not.

    Years ago, I worked at a local domestic violence shelter. Within weeks I began to meet women who were confused by their churches’ response to the abuse. One lady asked me, “Why does my pastor care more about my marriage than my life?” My non-Christian counterparts simply shook their heads with a look that inferred that if was what Christianity looked like, they wanted nothing to do with it. Over the past 20 years I have worked with hundreds of Christian victims of abuse, and in so many of those cases they came out doubly harmed– first by their abusers and second by their churches.

    Many victims faced church discipline for leaving their abusive spouses, many were told they could not file for divorce or legal separation while their spouses used their lack of action to their advantage and depleted their entire savings accounts. Many Christian wives were told to submit to abusive husbands as long as they weren’t asking them to sin, which only heightened their husbands’ sense of entitlement . Again and again I’ve watched counsel like this cause unbelieving friends and advocates to feel justified in their belief that Christianity is not for them. In addition, I have met scores of Christian abuse survivors who refuse to ever set foot in a church again because of the way the abuse was handled. Even worse, I have seen many children from abusive Christian homes reject the gospel altogether, because their fathers used scripture and authoritarian interpretations of male headship, to justify their oppressive ways. Many of these kids have told me that God seemed cruel and unjust, especially in cases where their churches’ advice appeared to sanction their fathers’ claims.

    Do I think churches actually intend to harm victims and their children? Absolutely not. At least not in the vast majority of cases. However, I do believe that churches with more authoritarian positions on male headship in marriage provide fertile ground for abuse. I also believe that the complicated nature of domestic violence makes it very difficult for those unfamiliar with the dynamics to handle it. If there ever was a time to refer out to experts, suspicion of domestic abuse is it. Sadly many counselors and pastors miss it because the severity of the problem is never disclosed in counseling, or the abusive spouse is completely charming in public, while the victim is frazzled and anxious. The problem thrives in secrecy so much so that it can be hard to believe when a victim finally speaks up. Without an understanding of the dynamics of abuse these factors can make it very tricky for churches to determine the best course of action. That is one reason our ministry and others offer to come alongside those who want to help in these situations and help navigate. Domestic violence does not respond well to marital counseling, and there are many other factors, including the effects of trauma on victims and their children, that must be considered when attempting to help.

    Until the SBC and other evangelical churches begin to understand the inherent difficulties of working with domestic abuse, their efforts to help families affected by it could very likely continue to do more harm than good. People will continue to “perish for a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). The message to victims, their children, their friends and other helpers will be that God cares more about marriages than lives, and that will do nothing to draw them to the gospel of grace. My prayer is that God will open the eyes of His people, and that we will begin to show unbelievers the truth of the gospel of grace by loving one another well.

    A final note

    In recent months, Called to Peace Ministries has been working with several local SBC churches as they navigate cases of abuse in their congregations. We have been so encouraged to see them willing to learn how to help families in crisis. In fact, when these churches have gotten on board the outcome has been so much better than we normally see. They have actually been able to step in and protect victims from further harm. The world cannot provide what the church can! There is power in the community of faith. It’s been amazing to watch sacrificial love at work– love that is willing to be inconvenienced and reach out to hold an abuser accountable or to provide for the physical needs of a survivor. It is a beautiful thing to watch the Body of Christ fulfill its mission to care for God’s sheep. In the few cases we’ve seen, the power of the gospel has been crystal clear to unbelievers. In fact, one of the ladies whose church has risen to the occasion told me that one of her unchurched friends has been so impressed by her church’s support that she is coming to church for the first time ever. That, my friends, is “gospel above all” in action! My prayer is that more and more churches will follow suit so that the power of gospel will not be overshadowed by injustice in our midst.

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

    A Domestic Violence Advocate’s Plea to the SBC

    A few weeks ago I met with Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to share some concerns I have about all the recent news regarding abuse, Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I had seen several tweets and blogposts from SBC leaders including the Bruce and reached out to him. I knew our time was limited so I printed off a list of nine points I think the SBC must address in order to improve their response to the abuse epidemic that has remained hidden for so long. He was very receptive, seemed to understand and agree with most of my concerns, then asked for permission to share. He and his wife Lauren added their perspective on several points and posted  8 Ways SBC Churches Can Strengthen our Response to Domestic Abuse a few days ago. I shared it on my social media pages; however, I’m getting some backlash from my advocate friends so I thought I’d share the original document (I had already shared on some advocates forums), as well as my thoughts on the Ashford post.

    First of all, let me say that I appreciate the fact that Bruce was willing to listen. I can see he has a heart for the abused and that he wants to help the SBC improve their response. So while their perspective on some of the latter points in the post are different than mine, I choose to be thankful that we have a dialogue going and that he is open. Understanding domestic violence is not easy. I have been advocating for victims for over twenty years now and I am constantly learning. I think too many times we as advocates are quick to criticize  without allowing for that. I believe that leaders who are wiling to learn should be commended, and am glad that many important points were shared by someone who has far more followers on social media than I do. He has a voice and influence in places I don’t, so praise God that he shared what he did.

    In the meantime, some of you asked for the original document I shared with him, so I’m sharing below.

    Improving Our Response to Domestic Violence

    “Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.” Al Mohler

    To effectively address domestic abuse the SBC should:

    • Recognize the overall nature of domestic violence.It is not always physical or illegal. See attached Power & Control Wheel and “Myths and Realities of Domestic Batterers.” When we fail to recognize the nonphysical tactics used by nearly all perpetrators, we diminish the experience of thousands of victims. We must expand our definition of domestic abuse to include these other well-documented traits.
    • Understand that making blanket statements about what a victim should do is not a good idea. For example, calling the police could actually be harmful to a victim in the long run.
    • Commit to becoming educated.This does not merely mean going to your nearest counselor. Domestic violence is often not covered sufficiently in many counseling programs. Seek out experts on domestic violence and add women’s voices to the conversation. Engage your congregations in a conversation about abuse.
    • Recognize that the theology of many among our ranks has hurt women. There is a whole movement against complementarian theology among DV advocates because it has been so warped. The SBC should strongly denounce authoritarian/ hyper-headship interpretations of scripture. Locally, I heard a pastor preach a sermon in which he pounded his fist on the podium as he said, “Wives, you need to submit to your husbands! I don’t care if he’s good. I don’t care if he’s bad. You need to submit!” This sort of teaching simply reinforces abusive men’s sense of entitlement and keeps victims of abuse in oppression.
    • Recognize that our counseling has hurt victims. Domestic violence does not respond well to marital counseling, but in general marriages have been elevated above lives in our counseling. Much of what has been labeled biblical counseling has resulted in placing responsibility for the abuse on victims. See attached article “Deadly Counseling.”
    • Recognize that our churches have believed abusers far more than their victims. Although statistics show fewer than 10% of abuse claims are false, the overwhelming majority of victims we work with have told us that their pastors believed their husbands rather than them, or if they believed their claims they minimized the severity of the abuse. They were also quick to accept shallow confessions as repentance and force reconciliation before it was safe.
    • Recognize that many victims have felt doubly abused by their churches through church discipline when they decided to leave abusers who were harming them and their children. In more conservative churches this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
    • Recognize the effects of trauma on victims and their children. Most children and victims who live with DV suffer a host of issues including complex PTSD. It is nearly impossible for them to heal when they are being exposed to continual abuse. Therefore, refusing to allow them to separate or forcing reconciliation before healing causes further harm. Children who live with DV (even nonphysical) are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to commit suicide and (especially when the abuser uses scripture as a weapon) more likely to deny the faith.
    • Understand there is a correlation between the recent avalanche of sexual sin being exposed in our ranks and domestic abuse. An overwhelming majority of female victims of abuse report that their husbands are addicted to pornography and have committed adultery (often with multiple partners). The attitude of such men towards women is one of entitlement and objectification.

    “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.”   Pr. 17:15

    Don’t Confess Your Sins to an Abuser!

    HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

    Last week in our support group for survivors of domestic abuse, one of the participants approached me after class to tell me about a counseling session she had with a biblical counselor at her church a few days earlier. This dear lady is living with a very harsh husband who constantly berates her. He tells her how worthless he thinks she is regularly, so she went to counseling in hopes of finding a way to have peace in the midst of a very destructive marriage. Her counselor rightly told her that the only person she can change is herself, and then began to help her uncover her sins and shortcomings as a wife. The focus was on the marriage, and in the end, my friend left with a popular book on how to be a godly wife. As she relayed the story tears came to her eyes. She explained how she had spent years trying to be a better wife, and looking at her own sin, but that only seemed to worsen her husband’s sense of entitlement.

    My friend also told me about the many counseling sessions she and her husband had attended together over the years, and how the counsel in those sessions was nearly always the same. Somehow she was made to feel responsible for her husband’s sin. If she would just be more submissive, more “quiet and gentle,” and more loving maybe her husband would be won without a word. She was always encouraged to look at her own sin, and never to keep a record of the wrongs done to her. For over 2 decades that is what she has done, but things have only gotten worse.

    In joint counseling sessions, her husband usually listened very intently to all the instructions the given to her, as well as her confessions of missing the mark in their relationship. It actually seemed those counseling sessions gave him ammunition when they got back home. The counselors had merely confirmed his beliefs about her incompetence as a wife, and proven that he needed to take a stronger hand in leadership. The truth is that their counselors had probably confronted his sin as well, but he simply chose to ignore those parts of the sessions. Besides, he was able to get his wife to freely admit to more than her fair share of the blame, so it was easy to turn the main focus of most sessions to that.

    Abusive people are skilled at diverting the focus of counseling to less important issues. They also love to find counselors who will focus on marital roles rather than heart issues. Counselors who encourage wives to submit and yield to their husbands’ leadership can cause great harm. In all my years of working as an advocate, I’ve never seen a situation where submitting to sinful mistreatment saved a marriage. Usually, it has the opposite effect. It only serves to empower and embolden hearts that are filled with pride, while victims are left taking on the burden for the entire relationship.

    No matter if the counseling is balanced, and equally focused on both spouses’ sin, an abusive person will only hear instructions aimed at his or her spouse. As a result, even the best marital counselors will find themselves doing more harm than good. They may not see it in a session where the offending spouse is nodding his head in approval, and acting extremely motivated for change. However, things change once the couple gets back home, and the abuser begins to taunt his spouse using the advice of the counselor. When it comes to abusive and destructive relationships, marital counseling just doesn’t work. Instead, it usually makes matters worse– particularly counsel that focuses on the victim’s sin in front of an oppressive spouse.* If you’re living in an abusive relationship (read more here if you’re not sure), I encourage you to steer clear of joint martial counseling, or any counseling that puts the burden of the relationship and the abuse on you.

    Let me just say that I am a biblical counselor! I believe in the sufficiency of scripture, and acknowledge that sin is the root cause of the overwhelming majority of problems we see in counseling. However, as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, I’ve seen a very troubling trend when it comes to our counseling strategies in cases of abuse. We’ve been taught that we need to get to the root sin issues with our clients, and rightly so. The problem occurs when we fail to recognize clear patterns of oppression that are nearly always present in cases of abuse. When we put couples in the same room for marital counseling and ask victims to confess their sins to their oppressors, we are arming their abusers. God’s heart is for the weak and afflicted, and he opposes proud oppressors (Zec. 7:10, Ps. 72:4, Ps. 82:3-4). May he give us wisdom to do the same.

    “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps. 82:2-4

    *Of course, victims are not without sin, but when we encourage confession of sin in front of an abuser we merely feed both spouses’ faulty assumptions that the victim’s sin caused the abuse. In my years of counseling, I’d have to say the victims’ sin is rarely what counselors assume– it’s not provoking the abuse! More likely, it is being ruled by “fear of man.” Counsel that puts the burden for the abuse on the victim is not only ineffective, but extremely harmful.

     

    How it All Began…

    This week I was featured on my friend Chris Mole’s Peaceworks podcast. He interviewed me, and asked me to share my story of survival, as well as how Called to Peace Ministries got started. Click here to listen.

     

    The Self-Righteous Face of Abuse

    When you’ve lived through abuse, and heard hundreds of stories about it, you realize there are some pretty clear patterns when it comes to the abusive mentality. In his book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft suggests that “An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside.”* Sure enough, an attitude of entitlement and superiority has been present in nearly every case of abuse I’ve witnessed. It’s not always evident to those looking in from the outside, but victims know it well. They understand how skillfully their abusers twist truth with lies to promote their own selfish agendas. Most tell me it’s so convincing that they start blaming themselves for the abuse they’ve endured.  The tactic is as old as mankind. It was first seen when the serpent twisted God’s words, and caused Eve to doubt what He had said. This morning as I was reading in Mark, I saw it again with the religious leaders.

    Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?
    Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. (Mk. 12:13-15)
    These leaders sandwiched their cruel intentions with truth, and even flattery. If they had come right out and insulted him, the crowds (that they feared — Mk. 11:32) would have been upset. Instead, they missed the hidden agenda of these self-righteous hypocrites, because their words sounded good and righteous. We see this all the time at Called to Peace Ministries. Victims come in wondering if they’re crazy, because their abusive spouses have twisted the truth so much they wonder what reality is. Self-righteous abusive people are so convinced they are right they often convince others the same, and then lead them down a path to destruction (Mt. 23:13-15).
    Thank God Jesus saw through their schemes. The one who is the Truth was quick to recognize the trap. Later when the Sadducees tried to trap Him by twisting truth again, Jesus replied, Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” Yep, He actually told those who specialized in the Scriptures that they were ignorant of them! Even worse, He accused them of denying the power of God. These were the two reasons they were “in error.” While Jesus’ words did nothing to correct or change the hearts of his accusers, they should impact us.* We need to realize that there are wolves disguised as sheep among us. They know all the right words. They can quote the scripture, and be extremely persuasive, but their knowledge is merely head knowledge. They twist the truth to oppress rather than set free. Their knowledge of God is faulty, and they use their warped view of him to tear down rather than restore. 
    Lately, the news has been filled with glimpses of secret lives and abuse being uncovered, but our churches still don’t seem to get it. Take it from somebody on the front lines of battle against abuse– it’s an epidemic in our churches! However, when victims speak up, their stories are doubted, because it’s so easy to believe the words of people who can quote scripture while missing the heart of its Author. It’s easy to believe it’s a marital problem rather than oppression. If we don’t love people enough to confront sin, and support the oppressed we are missing God’s heart.
    Please join me in prayer that God’s true people will no longer be fooled by self-righteous oppressors, but instead will proclaim freedom for the captives (Is. 61:1). The first step is knowledge, and without it people will continue to perish (Hos. 4:6). Until we learn how to recognize those acting like wolves (but who look so much like sheep) we are simply empowering the abuse.
    Lord, please open our eyes to see the truth that will set the oppressed free!

    *Bancroft, Lundy, Why Does He do That? (New York, Berkley, 2002), 31.

    *There were some religious leaders who came to Jesus, but only those willing to humble themselves entered into relationship. At least in one case we know that brokenness drove a leader to Him (Mk.5:21-24). Jairus came to Jesus in desperation, because his daughter was dying. Quite often, in cases of abuse, the only thing that might spark repentance is allowing an abuser to suffer the consequences of his or her sin. Treating the problem as a marital issue only makes matters worse.

    “Hopeless” is a LIE!

    Christmas Day 1995 was one of the worst days of my life. It wasn’t just bad because of the magnitude of horrendous things I had endured up until that point—it was terrible because I had lost hope. In my journal that day I wrote:

    It's been a rather lousy day- I keep remembering that scripture that says that God won't allow us to be tested beyond what we can bear & I wonder if it’s a misprint. Or perhaps it applies to temptation only & not trials. I feel like my blood pressure must be 200\150, and I'd love to just leave this world forever.

    Thoughts of suicide plagued me, and the only thing that kept me from following through was love for my children. I didn’t want them to have to deal with the loss of their mother after everything else they had endured. In the ten months since we had left our home (and their father), they had seen and heard more than children ever should. We all suffered signs of PTSD from living with the trauma of domestic violence. I remember asking God if He could just take us all in heaven that night, because I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I had no hope for the future. All I had was God, and at that point He didn’t seem powerful enough to change things.

    Thank God I didn’t give in to my feelings that night. Instead I continued to call out to Him in the midst of my distress. I spent hours in scripture looking for answers, and while I didn’t find an immediate fix for my circumstances, I began to find that God’s heart was for me. When I felt as though He had forgotten me, I found Isaiah 49:14-16. “But you said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” This passage spoke to my heart as a mother, and let me know that His love for me was even greater than my love for my children, and He proved it at the cross.

    As I continued to seek Him in the midst of my hopelessness, He did not disappoint. He met me and became more real to me than I could have ever imagined. I thought suffering would destroy me, instead as I sought Him in the midst of it, I came out with a faith that is unshakeable! I often tell people that I am grateful for what that suffering accomplished in my life. Looking back and remembering His tender care still brings a sense of profound gratitude to my heart. For several difficult years, I just held on to Him and He was faithful, but the outcome could have been very different.

    In my desperation I ran to the only Source of Hope I knew. I sought God and made a decision to believe His truth over my feelings. I printed out scriptures and posted them all over my walls. Any time I was feeling particularly hopeless, I ran to one of those promises and read out loud several times. Often times, through many tears, I yelled out those promises (as if to remind Him). I refused to let hopelessness take over again. Twenty-two years later, I can say that God has turned my ashes into beauty (Is. 61:3), and I am so grateful!

    After coming out of abuse, God gave me a ministry to work with victims and survivors of domestic violence. Over the years I have watched many women experience the same deepening of faith I experienced in my distress, but others have allowed hopelessness to rule them. The best they could hope for was a way to escape the pain of the scars of the past. Some have run to alcohol and drugs, some to new (and unhealthy) relationships, and some to various other substitutes for true healing. Often I’ve wished I could just push a button and impart some of my faith to these precious souls, but as much as I desire their healing, it can never be forced.

    In order to find true hope and healing, we must decide to believe the truth rather than the lie of hopelessness, to esteem truth over our negative feelings, and to hold on to Him through the storms. I’ve never seen anyone disappointed who did that, but I have seen many who have never healed for failing to do it. We should never settle for a hopeless existence when He offers abundant life. Yes, this world is filled with trouble, but He has overcome it (Jn. 16:33) and enables us to do the same when we allow our troubles to drive us into His loving arms instead of to despair.

    Note: For a copy of the scriptures I compiled as I was leaving abuse, check out Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace & Healing After Domestic Abuse or the Called to Peace Companion Workbook